IT WAS an incinerator chimney in Georgetown, something between eyesore and historic landmark, a Trivial Pursuit question for frantic Saturday night drivers looking for a parking space in Georgetown ("What the heck is that thing, anyway?")
Now the towering stack (constructed in 1932) has been transformed into the esoteric centerpiece of the lobby of the new Loews Georgetown, a modernistic, glass-paneled, 14-screen multiplex that opens this weekend. Located at 3111 K St., this cinema (the biggest in the District) promises the thrilling prospect of quality movie-going in Washington. Uh, with parking.
It's a great thing for the city. With its aging, pre-stadium seating theaters threatening to go under, one by one, Washington has been in dire need of new and modern movie theaters.
D.C., says Michael P. Norris, executive vice president for Loews Cineplex Entertainment, has been "dramatically underscreened." And now you can see "Die Another Day" and "Ararat" in Washington and leave your car in the underground lot in this multi-use complex (which includes other retail and the Ritz Carlton hotel). The parking tab: $5 for four hours, with theater validation. The theater also offers shuttle rides from the Foggy Bottom and Rosslyn Metro stations.
Loews Georgetown has all the familiar comforts: big screens, plush stadium seating and digital sound systems. The theaters range in size from 162 to 306 seats, for a total of 3,000. In the lobby, concessions include traditional popcorn and soda, chicken tenders, chicken quesadillas and pizzas. And there are ticket machines for credit card transactions. Regular admission is $9 ($6.50 for matinees), with the usual discounts for seniors and students. You can also buy tickets through www.enjoytheshow.com or www.Fandango.com and pick them up at the box office or the ETMs (electronic ticketing machines) in the lobby.
How will this shake down for other Cineplex theaters in the District? Will Loews Georgetown suck business from 4000 Wisconsin or the Inner Circle? "The public will decide," replies Norris, who also says Loews Cineplex Entertainment is looking at several other locations around the city. Loews would "love" to build more theaters in town, he said, but would not give details.
Manager Bob Jones says the theater also hopes to attract customers from across the water, where stadium theaters don't start until Ballston.
So, what are you waiting for?
JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL
The 13th Washington Jewish Film Festival: An Exhibition of International Cinema (we have now come to the end of the name) returns this year, showing 37 features, documentaries and shorts from 16 countries about the Jewish experience. The festival kicks off Thursday at 6:45 (repeated the next day at 1 p.m.) with the Washington premiere of the French romantic comedy "God Is Great, I'm Not." The film stars stars Audrey ("Amelie") Tatou as a twenty-something Parisian who converts to Judaism after falling for a Jewish veterinarian (Edouard Baer). Admission for the Thursday opening event, which includes a post-film wine reception, is $15. After that, movies will be shown each day through Dec. 15. It concludes at 7 on Dec. 15 with Caroline Link's "Nowhere in Africa," about a Jewish lawyer who escapes the Nazis by going to Kenya.
Many of the filmmakers will be on hand for screenings of their films, including Ruth Behar, who'll attend her documentary, "Adio Kerida," at 5:45 Sunday. It's about a tribe of Sephardic Jews from Cuba as well as Cuban Jews who emigrated to the United States. Dutch director Frans Weisz will appear at his two films ("Polonaise," Dec. 14 at 8:45 and "Qui Vive," Dec. 15 at 4:15). Also on the agenda: Peter Laufer and Jeff Kamen, who'll discuss their documentary, "Exodus to Berlin," with Washington Post (and former Berlin correspondent) Marc Fisher, at 3:15 Sunday.
Most films are shown at the District of Columbia Jewish Community Center's Aaron and Cecile Goldman Theater (1529 16th St. NW). Other venues include the National Gallery of Art's East Building (which will show, free, "In the Mirror of Maya Deren," a documentary about the poetic filmmaker, Dec. 15 at 4) and the Goethe-Institut (814 Seventh St. NW), which will present Arkady Yakhnis's magic realism film, "Shoes From America" at 2 Sunday and some early films from Ernst Lubitsch at 4. For more information, call the Washington Jewish Film Festival hotline at 202-777-3248 or visit www.wjff.org (where you can also download the whole schedule). Tickets ($15 opening and closing night, $9 for other screenings) can be purchased in advance through www.BoxOfficeTickets.com.
-- Desson Howe